228. The Tenant (1976, Polanski): A-
232. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002, Hong): A-
228. The Tenant (1976, Polanski): A-
232. On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (2002, Hong): A-
Posted on Criterion Cast July 29th, 2011
Looking at Christopher Robin’s room at the start of Winnie the Pooh, we see that the boy has not been tainted by modernity. His abode remains as it always was; chock full of books, stuffed animals, old-fashioned toys and an assortment of collections. It is doubtful any child’s room looks like this anymore, signifying that this is a film that will be a return to what once was. Recent animated features like Rango and Toy Story 3 are more accomplished fare with their complex and/or exquisitely executed themes balanced with wondrous storytelling, but sometimes it is nice to return to something as gentle and pure as A.A. Milne’s world of “Winnie the Pooh”. The new film may not stick with viewers amidst everything else out there, but it is a joy through and through.
A.A Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” stories are episodic in that each chapter contains a new story following the characters in Hundred Acre Wood. The film tells one story over the course of its shockingly short length (clocking in at sixty minutes), but by basing it off of three of Milne’s stories the film still feels episodic in nature. Winnie the Pooh wakes up and immediately goes in search of honey. He runs into Eeyore who has lost his tail. Christopher Robin and friends hold a contest to see who can find the best replacement for Eeyore’s tail, the prize being a large jar of honey. Christopher Robin leaves a note that is misinterpreted by Owl to mean he has been captured by a monster called the Backson. They try to find and save the child by setting up a trap. All the while, Pooh remains desperate for honey.
That pretty much sums up the plot. It is a simple tale with a simple but meaningful message about friendship that children can effortlessly grasp. There is no pop-culture of any kind to be found. Hundred Acre Wood remains untainted by the outside world and it is all the better for that. The humor grows out of the characters we know and love through their facial expressions, the way they interact with each other and the situations they find themselves in. Something the film expands upon is the idea of the narrator’s presence. The characters interact quite a bit with the narrator, voiced by John Cleese, without it ever becoming too much. The animation is hand-drawn with crisp lines in the foreground and a watercolor aesthetic in the background. The effect is understated pleasantry.
The appeal of Winnie the Pooh for children is hopefully still present in today’s culture. At the very least, I imagine toddlers would enjoy this film and not just the adults who grew up with Winnie the Pooh in their lives via the 1977 collection of featurettes titled The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh or the Milne books. There is an everlasting appeal to the title character. He is a dimwitted fool but at the same time so lovable and precious. Christopher Robin’s famous line “Silly old bear” remains the perfect response to his many foibles, misunderstandings and addictive predilection for honey. What is so wonderful about the character is that children have the advantage of knowing what the bear doesn’t. They are given the opportunity to understand a situation before he does, allowing them to be superior in their knowledge to the characters they see.
The voice work is solid but it is still jarring not having Sterling Holloway or Paul Winchell at the helm. It is the only real sign that times have changed in the Hundred Acre Wood, and that change exists outside of the films construct. The songs are serviceable but nothing more. Zooey Deschanel surprisingly does not overstay her welcome with her presence on some songs but they remain the most forgettable part of the film.
A part of me questions whether or not the film was necessary. Sure, the film succeeds with grace as a return to the sweet world of Milne in all regards to the point of that clearly being its overall goal. Yet with Walt Disney Animation Studios rarely working with hand-drawn projects at present, part of me wishes they had invested thirty million dollars on an original project.
It is difficult to stay on that thought for long with the result of the film. Winnie the Pooh may be slight but it works because of its slightness and not in spite of it. The filmmakers had a determined commitment to keep the modern world at bay and the film is all the better for it. So sit back, relax and revisit your friends from the Hundred Acre Wood.
Hello folks. It’s been a while. Look for a review of Winnie the Pooh in the coming week. For now, here are some quick trailer assessments.
John Carter – B-: The trailer for John Carter does not look up my alley, but it does boast two things that have me more than willing to see it at some point in my life. The first is that this film is coming from director Andrew Stanton of Wall-E and Finding Nemo; his live-action debut. The second is that this cast is incredible, and while many probably have little more than bit parts, it would inevitably be fun to watch all of these people on screen in the same film.
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – B: I don’t feel that I need another Mission Impossible film in my life. However, this advertisement has me more than willing to give this a chance. More than anything else, this has people stoked because it is the live-action debut of Brad Bird, which has me completely fascinated. Also; Josh Holloway. I miss him a lot so seeing him on the big screen will be rewarding.
Hugo – C+: Hugo may not be in the very top of the list in regards to anticipated Fall films, but it is still one I am largely looking forward to. This trailer disappointed. It had corny music, too much reliance on humor and Nanny McPhee font. No thanks. But I think the film itself has potential. I adored the source material and this is certainly a different project for Scorsese. Since the film has so much plot-wise to do with the magic of film (not to give anything away) this material is actually right up the director’s alley in a weird way. Knowing the story, it is very easy to see why he was drawn to directing the film.
This Must be the Place – C: This film seems to think it is a lot different than it is judging from the ad. A dragged up aged-rocker Sean Penn feels like a gimmick to tell a story that feels very familiar and not very interesting. Reactions at Cannes were very mixed (but when aren’t they?), but I cannot muster up excitement for this. I can muster up excitement for David Byrne performing the song from which the title comes from, This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody), which he does in the film.
The Dark Knight Rises – B: The Dark Knight Rises teaser was just that; a teaser. Enticing material, but I’m simply not going to be a person obsessing over photos, set pics and footage. I’m quite excited for the film, but the Batman movies are my least favorite stuff from Nolan. Love what he does with the genre, but there are plenty of other things for me to be more excited about. It is a wonderfully structured and calculated tease, and functions very well.
Mysteries of Lisbon – A: Clocking in at 270 minutes, Raoul Ruiz’s latest has critics throwing around that ever-so grand word ‘masterpiece”; judging from the trailer, the claims at the very least deserve examination. This looks sweepingly glorious; I do not doubt being captivated by the period detail and spanning character work. Ruiz looks like he is doing a lot with the camera, but just enough as to not distract. I doubt I will get to see this in theaters, but I would like to watch it as soon as I can. It gets a limited release in early August. Hopefully I will be able to track it down in a theater.
The Iron Lady – C: It is not difficult to inspire me to want to see something on some level. I am somewhat more picky about the films I get extremely excited about. Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher inspires more of a “sure I’ll see that. I’m sure she’ll be spectacular” reaction as opposed to an immediate excitement. This teaser looks like it is trying too hard. It knows people are only hooked because of the idea of Streep as Thatcher, suspending her appearance until the final moment (hence a ‘teaser’). The men are speaking about her defining traits, precisely outlining what we see when we look at the former Prime Minister. In short, the teaser is a tease for a performance, not the film. I wonder if the material will be on the same level as Streep; somehow I am skeptical.
Jack and Jill – F: Anyone who has seen this trailer needs no explanation. It is embarrassing. This easily looks like Sandler’s most humiliating project to date. That this is even a film that is coming out is somehow difficult to wrap my mind around. It shouldn’t be but it is. It feels like a fake Sandler film from Funny People. When there was a fake trailer for the film on the recent South Park finale, I thought it was a joke. I has no idea this was a film being made. Oh Al Pacino. What are you doing?
Arthur Christmas – B-: While I do not like the look of the animation at all, this looks cute and harmless enough.
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – B: I still have not seen the first film but I mean to at some point. This looks quite entertaining. Downey Jr. and Law look like they work together very well. Jared Harris as Moriarty and Noomi Rapace are the most exciting elements here. I still cannot stand that incessant use of hyper slow-motion, but I hope the film itself is as consistently entertaining as the trailer is.
Arietty – B+: Hayao Miyizaki is credited for the screenplay of this adaptation of The Borrowers, and he personally supervised over the production. So this latest film from Studio Ghibli is high on my anticipation list. While the narration annoyingly tells me everything I am apparently going to feel while watching the film, the footage itself looks about as magical and delightful as one would hope.
Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy – A-: Yet another Fall film I am anxiously awaiting. I think what people are most easily excited about here, besides the outstanding ensemble and it being Tomas Alfredson’s follow-up to Let the Right One In, is that Gary Oldman gets to shine front and center here. Understandably, even people who don’t hold much stock in the Academy Awards are wondering if this will bring the man’s long overdue first Oscar nomination. The prestige of the project, the very respected source material, a killer cast and Alfredson at the helm should be enough to shove Oldman into the race with what will likely be (and many are banking on being) one of the standout performances of the year.
The Tree – C: Even the trailer had trouble keeping my interest. I feel like I know exactly what this would be as a full-length narrative. The Tree has blatant symbolic meaning. So will the tree be cut down or saved? Do I really care? I mean it’s a beautiful tree, but….The tree = dead father dilemma just seems a bit too simple.
Dream House – C+: It seems like In America was ages ago, doesn’t it? Dream House looks like a passable thriller;but completely forgettable and I’d see it mainly for that cast. I’ll probably end up recommending Dream Home instead, which is overall an unsuccessful film, but has such a memorable extreme use of gore as well as an AWESOME Josie Ho and legitimate examination of the competition within Hong Kong housing. The names are so similar, I thought I’d throw a recommendation in there.
In Time – B+: Two words: Andrew Niccol. This trailer is way too long, as it was made for Comic-Con, so in a sense it feels like I have seen the entire film. But I am loving the high-concept, the cast and the filmmaker at the helm. I have been looking forward to this for quite a while. Niccol wrote the fantastic Gattaca as well as The Truman Show, a film I have seen more than almost any. I have yet to see Lord of War, which he also directed, but I trust, and hope, he will also be able to execute his own material well.
Drive – A: This is near the top of my mental Fall Movie Season to-see list. Yet I did not enjoy the book at all, and the one Refn film I have seen, Valhalla Rising, was a film I was unable to make any kind of connection with on any level. Still, this cast (yes, this film is filled with pretty people, but the use of Albert Brooks has me most excited) and the feel of this trailer, as well as the clarity of the director’s talent has so many justifiably anticipating this.
The Amazing Spider-Man – D+: Yikes. This was pretty bad. There is nothing here that could stir up a modicum of interest. Garfield and Stone look like they are sleepwalking from the little we see of them. (500) Days of Summer has not stuck with me well so Marc Webb’s involvement means little to me. I literally just saw this film ten years ago. The existence of reboots makes complete sense and it is ridiculous to argue against them. But there really should be a generation between them; 10 years is just not enough. Plus, I just don’t care about Spider Man. Or Peter Parker. These superhero stories hit so many of the same beats, and unless one really truly is a fan of this genre, it is difficult to get excited for what feels like variations of the same story (to make a sweeping generalization).
Haywire – A-: Two upcoming Soderbergh films and both look great. Soderbergh does with Gina Carano what he did with Sasha Grey and The Girlfriend Experience. In both he essentially built a film around each of them. What Soderbergh and wonderful screenwriter Lem Dobbs (Dark City, The Limey) have done is construct a genre film that will show off what Carano can do. This is the way a lot of Hong Kong action films function; they are built around the actor’s physical abilities. This is not common in the West, so the idea of a female protagonist kicking ass ‘in camera’ is exhilarating. And it looks like the material they have given her is quality as well.
Kill List – A: Anything I have heard about Kill List has been stellar; the film seems to be eliciting strong reactions from all. The trailer does not disappoint. It has an beguiling ambiguity that surely reflects the film atmosphere. I’ve heard its incredibly intense and very shocking, with people strongly urging audiences go in blind. Since this is generally the way I go about things outside of trailer viewing and a general sense of reception, this won’t be a problem, and only further intrigues.
John Carpenter’s best work exudes a kind of subtle magnetism rooted in minimalist atmosphere. Mainly I speak of Halloween and The Thing. Halloween stands among a golden few in the mostly empty slasher subgenre as an exercise in build-up. The Thing is all about environment and the paranoia that can wreak from it. Slasher tropes and environmental stigma mundanely come into play in Carpenter’s latest feature The Ward, his first full-length narrative since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. The Ward shows off none of Carpenter’s abilities; it is a paint-by-numbers horror which can be thrown into the heap of forgettable and rote films the genre manages to produce year after year.
The year is 1966. A young woman runs through the woods in tattered undergarments. She approaches an abandoned farmhouse and sets it on fire. As she watches it burn, she drops to her knees; a big weight has clearly been lifted from her. Police find her and she is taken into custody. Her name is Kristen (Amber Heard), and she wakes up in a psychiatric hospital where she is put in a special ward with four other troubled girls; Iris (Lyndsey Fonseca), an artist, Zoey, (Laura Leigh) a girl who has retreated into child-like behavior, scattered Emily (Mamie Gummer) and prim nymphomaniac Sarah (Danielle Panabaker). Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) heads the ward, showing both concern and a clear knowledge that goes far past what the girls know about their situation. Nobody gets better on the ward; they simply disappear one by one. A ghost named Alice Hudson is haunting them, and Kristen cannot get any of the girls to reveal what they know about her. Sick of not getting answers, she becomes determined to escape the ward, going up against whoever decides to get in her way.
Every spooky scene contains a stylized thunderstorm. The ghost jumps up right on time after attempted suspenseful set-up. Nothing is effective enough; I was hoping Carpenter would be able to play with cliché and make something of it. But he plays the scares too straight, which would have been fine if the screenplay hadn’t been one of the most atrocious in recent memory. The material is unworkable, but the question still lingers whether Carpenter has lost his touch. It has been a while since he was able to scare, and The Ward is a throwaway film at best. With none of his trademark feats on display, it is sadly impossible to discern that this is a film made by someone considered a master by many.
Written by Shawn and Michael Rasmussen, this script carries the bare-bones minimum requirements for a story. The characters can all be poorly described with one word, and each scene displays wooden dialogue meant to push forward its superbly weak plot in some way. The film clocks in at eighty-eight minutes, and feels like it’s actively striving to fill up that time. Then there is the matter of the film’s final twist, a flat-out stupid faux clever add-on that desperately wants to surprise, but merely astounds in its idiocy. Final act shocks like this are a dime-a-dozen nowadays, and if you aren’t going to do it right, there is no point in doing it. With a perplexing one-minute explanation that sums up what we have just witnessed in a slipshod manner, the twist is the icing on the cake for a film that has zero original instinct.
Sorry to say, but a John Carpenter return-to-form seems less and less likely. The more he continues to wait long stretches and disappoint, the further we get from seeing what we loved about the filmmaker. It is beyond me why this first feature in many years was this written drivel. You can just see this screenplay getting tossed around in limbo for years and years before somehow getting saddled with the director. I stop to wonder if anyone involved actually saw something in this material or if everyone was going through the motions.
From time to time I make other lists not pertaining to film, and I figured there is no harm in putting them on my film blog. I doubt I have many consistent readers, so I reiterate over and over again the subjectivity of my lists rather than risk any readers getting annoyed with my insistence. Its not that I don’t take the idea of what I think is ‘best’ into consideration; I just hate proclaiming any list as such. Here are some of the criteria taken into consideration for this list; first, having heard the entire album was required. How the song functions as an ‘opening track’ was more important than the song itself. Yes, most of these rank among my endless list of songs I love, but I didn’t simply list my favorite songs that happened to open an album and put them in order. Sometimes, how it introduces what is to come came into play. Mostly, it was the way the song either immediately kicks off or gradually builds into a brilliant entrance into an album. No reasons for music lists; I don’t pretend to be able to write about music.
Well; this is it folks. The day we have been eagerly awaiting, and dreading, for years. This Friday, the final Harry Potter film is released, bringing an end to the most lucrative and arguably consistent film franchise of all time. There is something bittersweet about it, like the way I felt in the days leading up to the Lost series finale. A simultaneous need to see how it turns out and a desire to hold off its release as long as possible. Because after this, it’s over. Some may be okay with that, but for a Harry Potter fan like me, and countless others, that finality will be our predominant sense. When the final book was released, the only solace I could take after finishing was the comfort that several films had yet to be released. At least there was that. Ah well; it had to end some time.
So while many retrospectives, marathons and write-ups everywhere you look, I thought I’d chime in with my own ranking of the films up to this point. This is, again, personal preference. I wish I could have gone really in-depth here, but this list is pretty short in explanation. After all, I only have two days to re-read the final half of Deathly Hallows!!
7. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007, Yates)
This was number 3 when I first posted it. Reasons being that I was not as familiar with it as the other films, meaning that everything I love about it stuck out to me. To be fair, Order of the Phoenix has a lot to love. The Imelda Staunton performance and the introductions of Luna Lovegood and Bellatrix Lestrange to name a few. Let us not forget the forming of Dumbledore’s Army and seeing Harry teach his fellow students and the epic climactic battle that has a raw war-like intensity. I also have a fond love for Nicholas Hooper’s score. Recently watching the film from start to finish again was an entirely disappointing experience. In short; the film is an absolute mess. Apparently David Yates filmed an extra 45 minutes of footage that did not make it in and it is not surprising given the choppy and slipshod manner in which the film plays out. This is also the only film not penned by Steve Kloves; he was sorely missed. Furthermore, Daniel Radcliffe, and much of the cast save the new additions of Staunton, Bonham-Carter and Lynch are clearly coasting. Radcliffe, Watson and Grint feel like they are going through the motions.
It also has an incredibly short running time for a book that was the longest in the series. The film overall makes little to no sense because of it. It explains things away with one sentence. The Cho Chang subplot feels absolutely useless and unresolved, not to mention the lame changes they made to it in relation to the book. Grawp is just there because he has to be 20 minutes later in the film; this obvious motivational plot element feels forcibly present. All of the stuff about the prophecy is truncated to such a degree that it becomes difficult to understand what the entire point of this entry was if one has not read the book. While many of the other films suffer from some degree of miscommunication from the screenwriter to the casual non-book fans, this film in particular suffers from nonexistent plot explanation. And thus it jumps from number 3 to 7 on this list.
6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002, Columbus)
Roger Ebert might be the only person I can think of who genuinely prefers the first two outings over the rest. It is easy to rank on Columbus’ all-too-sugary vision of the Harry Potter world, but I think we take what he did for granted…to a point. He is responsible for the casting of the children after all. The films may be too saccharine, but they still got the franchise off to a solid start. Looking back, the first two are weak links, but I remember my elation as a fourteen-year old seeing them in the theaters multiple times, and I still cherish that sense I used to have of them.
In regards to this second outing, it is hard to deny it any place but the bottom spot. First off, we have the introduction of Dobby, irritating in both book and film. If that weren’t enough, we get hit with the useless Colin Creevey, which should have been discarded in the adaptation. Branagh amusingly hams it up as Lockhart, and there are several fun sequences. Yet all in all, the film seems rather expendable, which cannot be said for any of the others.
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001, Columbus)
To give Columbus credit here, he does a marvelous job of introducing this world. It feels appropriately magical and with all the children’s fantasy films out there, this one makes its mark in breadth and wonder. Its mostly amusing to see the actors this young and amateur in performance. The final confrontation with Voldemort is painful and dated. And this is the only time the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would be a mere character sketch that went nowhere besides being a villainous cipher. ‘Wizard People Dear Reader’ has also prevented me from seeing the film in any kind of serious way. The film exists for nostalgic purposes more than anything else at this point.
4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005, Newell)
From here on out, the rankings become unbearably close. The distance between my number 5 and 6 is incalculable. This was going in the number 3 spot, and at the last minute I put it here. Why? Honestly, because I have seen it too many times. That is legitimately the reason for it being here. I love it to death, but I have probably seen it more than any Potter film, which is saying a lot. We are talking about hundreds of times here folks. I’d say only 15 or so viewings were given full attention, but this became one of the films I would put on in the background while doing homework, writing, reading; hell, even sleeping. It should probably be higher, but I sort of willingly exhausted myself with this film.
The only bad things I can say about it is that there are some really clunky and awkward attempts at humor and that Rita Skeeter’s role is reduced so much that it would have been just as easy to discard her entirely. There are some classic sequences here; notably the Yule Ball and Voldemort’s return, which are perfectly both executed. Who would have thought we’d see Jarvis Cocker and Jonny Greenwood in a Harry Potter film? Its the franchise’s first foray into PG-13; an important milestone. If ‘Azkaban’ wisely showcases the messiness and realism of adolescence, ‘Goblet’ is the first that starts to frankly deal with young budding love and flirtation. The Triwizard Tournament is my favorite ‘big-picture’ plot device of all the books or films. The universe is expanded via the two visiting schools. Brendan Gleeson kills as ‘Mad-Eye Moody’, or rather, Barty Crouch Jr. Fred and George are showcased more which is always a delight. There are so many little moments in this one that I hold onto and anticipate, going as specifically as Hermione’s ‘damn if I can’t stay annoyed with them’ reaction to Fred and George failing to understand why their aging potion won’t work on the Goblet. Unfortunately, Snape is barely in this film which is a major detractor. But mainly, this is the book and film where everything changes. It had all been leading to the climax of this story, and from here on out, the threat becomes a reality.
3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010, Yates)
While its slow pace set in a bit more than I think it wanted to, I still maintain this is a mature and largely stunning penultimate film. Much time is spent on exposition and setting the stakes. Like the characters, you feel how little is being accomplished. I think the film’s purpose and place within the films as a whole will become more clear when it can be looked at in accordance with the finale. There are so many revelatory character moments, particularly between Harry and Hermione, that get to be front and center. Something the films have arguably done in a more layered way than the books, is make the Harry and Hermione friendship feel as substantial as it does. There is a lot of momentum to be found here, a lot of building dread as we inch towards the final showdown. Yates makes some fairly unconventional, if not risky directorial moves here, and it mostly pays off.
2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004, Cuaron)
So basically it’s all been said before. This is the film that changed everything; the one that took the franchise in a different direction via director Alfonso Cuaron. The characters and the film are treated with the kind of respect that emphasizes the scale of the unstable environment the students find themselves in year after year. Things became more laid-back, uniforms become sparse (is that Harry wearing JEANS?!) and boys act like boys hanging out after hours. Quidditch is thankfully not as important and emotions boil just barely under the surface as they are confronted with life head-on. The film is also unique because it stands alone as a film where Voldemort is entirely absent. This also has the introduction of my favorite Harry Potter character (besides Snape) with Remus Lupin as well as the equally wonderful Sirius Black. While the Shrieking Shack scene barely touches on the intensity of the book, it is still executed with confident excellence. This is also my favorite book, meaning that the story itself is near and dear to me, making me love it all the more.
1. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009, Yates)
Simply put; I find the sixth film to be the most flat-out satisfying of them all. That it somehow manages to be both the funniest film and the most intense is incredible. It is also the most visually stunning of the bunch, rich in visual tone and composition. Draco’s arc is still unstably creepy; Felton’s finest moment to be sure. Jim Broadbent gives an underrated performance as Slughorn, with each scene flashing layers that suggest so much. Voldemort’s memories are severely truncated, but perfectly executed. It is a seamless balancing act of so many moods, plot threads and impending doom. It is difficult to go much further than that. It is the only film to have zero missteps; everything works exactly as it should. We also get our first sense of how the wizarding world’s instability effects the outside world, still broadening the danger at hand. I cannot praise this film enough; in my eyes, it is perfect.
Like last week’s LGBT list, this installment will look at the chemistry between couples in film; this time heterosexual. Criteria demands that definitive romantic interest be found by at least one character. Like all of my lists, this is personal preference. Two actors may have fabulous chemistry together, like say, John C. Reilly and Melora Walters in Magnolia, but they were never considered for this list, despite being one of my favorite cinematic couples. Why? Great chemistry is not enough. Palpable is again the word of choice, (also scorching, as is used in the list title) but beyond that, a certain secret ingredient must be present. What that is I could not say; I will attempt to reason through it via my explanations. We all have our own reasons for being particularly drawn towards certain romantic interactions between two characters.
There will undoubtedly be a couple of choices on here that will elicit a “Hmm…I would not think of these two for a list like this”. But that is precisely what makes a list like this so great; everyone’s would likely be drastically different. Sexual interaction between couples on this list has an extremely wide range from wildly intense relationships to a chaste boy-meets-girl romp. There is a nice mix of films here, recent and old, a few from other countries. There are many different kinds of love stories, allowing a wide range of circumstance to be present. Also interesting is that none of the actors on this list appears more than once.
A lot of this is treading the same introductory ground as the LGBT chemistry list, I realize. But I hate posting lists without intros or reasons. As frustrating as it can be, as I always confront my limitations as a film blogger head-on, it is important for me to work through it and never simply plop down a list and click on ‘publish’.
I sincerely invite you to list some of your own choices for this list in the comments section. I would love to read them.
Beware: There are some spoilers in the mix.
10. Humphrey Bogart as Phillip Marlowe and Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge in The Big Sleep (1946)
Choosing between To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep was difficult, but I went with the latter, mainly because I happen to love the film a lot more. Bogart and Bacall as an onscreen pair muster up intimidating hype, seemingly impossible to live up to. That it does is a feat. That it goes further and surpasses the hype is difficult to fathom. Bogart and Bacall transfer their lifelong romance to the screen which continues to incite wonder today. They are backed by a screenplay co-written by Faulkner (yes, that Faulkner) that memorably sacrifices coherence for an addictively broad tone of consistent intrigue. Furthermore, the exchanges (chockfull of risqué innuendo and wordplay) between Marlowe and Vivian reveal a playfulness; a constant testing of the minds. Yes, Bogart fares equally well with Martha Vickers and Dorothy Malone (it is understandable that the producers were worried about just how good Vickers is, resulting in her performance being chopped up). That does not dim our appreciation of the famous couple’s work here.
9. Tippi Hedren as Marnie Edgar and Sean Connery as Mark Rutland in Marnie (1964)
There is nothing really romantic about this pairing and it may seem like an odd choice to some. Hitchcockian perversity hits an all-time high here in a forced relationship rife with trauma and sometimes laughably dated ‘Intro to Psych’ character work. Mark sees Marnie through his own arrogance; as an impenetrable pet project. Marnie allows Hitchcock to visually display the inner psyche in an even more outwardly purposeful way than ever before. The director is just as fascinated by Marnie (and Hedren for that matter) as Mark is. The film is short on plot (rare for the director) and is instead entirely about Marnie’s inner demons. As Mark tries to figure her out, so do the filmmaker and the audience. Countless time could be spent looking at this film with a feminist perspective, likely finding the film more problematic and reductive than anything else. As for the chemistry, many think the opposite and feel something is lacking between the two. I give them, and the film, more credit; the two have a ton to work with and their oddly successful coupling owes more to the material than anything else. These two are on the list primarily because of their unique circumstances, and that each scene carries with it an obsessive desire to penetrate one woman’s mind, creating uncommon tension.
8. Ralph Fiennes as Count László Ede Almásy and Kristin Scott Thomas as Katherine Clifton in The English Patient
Components of The Big Sleep and Marnie include crackling dialogue and situational captivation, but The English Patient’s inclusion on this list is entirely based on the pure unadulterated passion between Fiennes and Thomas. Their scenes are all-consuming; the definition of romance. It does not even feel like acting. The lacing of love affair and tragedy makes for all-the-more heavy impact.
7. Monica Vitti as Vittoria and Alain Delon as Piero in L’Eclisse (1962)
Antonioni’s third in a trilogy on alienation amongst the young and beautiful further proves why Vitti was the perfect cipher for the director’s examination of ennui and lack of communication. But for this list, we can forget about all of that. With Alain Delon thrown into the mix, we have arguably the two most beautiful people of their time period in a film together; Alain Delon and Monica Vitti. The mere prospect of the pairing turns my brain to rot. In practice it is a dream come true. While the characters are a means to justify the end for Antonioni’s grander vision, it does not lessen the impression these two leave with the viewer. He is an enthusiastic stockbroker and she is an unsure young woman who doesn’t know what she wants. Moving beyond physical attraction becomes a problem between the two. The struggle between wanting something more, and being unable to coalesce into anything substantial, leaves them at a standstill. Still, their physical attraction is something to behold. The scene featuring the two kissing between glass is a lengthy poetic dance, and it might be the sexiest scene from any of the couples featured here.
Who says a couple needs to get physical in order to have smoldering chemistry? Nary can a kiss be found in Wong Kar-wai’s seminal and sumptuous period film. It is because the two never consummate their feelings for one another that make the interactions between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung so special. While countless other hackneyed films about affairs exist (and many good ones), In the Mood for Love is all about not acting on ones feelings for another. How often do you see a story like this? Leung and Cheung are magical together. Cheung is decked out in some of the most beautiful period costumes known to film. Wong regular Christopher Doyle unforgettably captures the actors and creates atmosphere with his camera. And Shigeru Umebayashi’s famous score captures the yearning between Mo-wan and Li-zhen. This may sound like a beautiful film with nothing much going on underneath, but the opposite is true. Every scene between Leung and Cheung is riddled with layers and the film is beautifully acted with innumerable subtlety. They have motives for acting on their feelings because they believe their spouses are cheating; and yet they do not. You will not find unconsummated passion that matches this film.
From my initial review of this year’s adaptation of Jane Eyre; “It is when the two actors are brought together that the magic happens. It is a rare thing when the romantic leads have the chemistry the story demands them to have; these two do. The film is most engaging when the two are onscreen together, not just from of the power their scenes have, but because of the way they portray the evolution of their relationship. Buffini makes sure that different circumstances surround each scene they have together, making every single interaction between the two unique.”
The reason The Princess Bride has remained ever so strongly within our hearts is because it is pitch-perfect on all counts. This also goes Robin Wright and Cary Elwes as Buttercup and Wesley. They have chemistry to spare but it is because there are several kinds of tension apparent. In the beginning, they display the sweet and pure simplicity of love. When she is unknowingly kidnapped by him, a hateful banter forms that presents an oppositional romance. There are times when intensity takes hold not present in those first few scenes. By the end, we are back where we started with the innocence of the beginning, as they share the only kiss the two shares in the film.
3. Jimmy Stewart as Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullavan as Clara Novak in The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
If I can get The Shop Around the Corner on any list of mine, you better be damn sure I’ll try. Don’t get me wrong; this absolutely deserves to be here without a doubt; there was no sacrificial lamb to get this cherished treasure on the list. Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan were one of the first couples that came to mind when brainstorming for this. First, they don’t really care for each other. Then, he discovers that she is the pen pal he has fallen in love with. He has an advantage, and their interactions change. Indeed, she disdains him all the more, never withholding harsh criticism when possible, while he sees her in a new light entirely. While the film classifies as romantic comedy, their conversations go far past the depended-upon witty banter. There is something truly special, and indeed indescribable, at least to me that these two bring on the screen together. There are times where they speak and it is as if there is nobody else in the world. I also recommend seeing their other onscreen pairing in The Mortal Storm, a much more serious film that does not get the recognition it deserves.
Sadomasochistic relationships are so very rarely, if ever and certainly not in the US, portrayed with any kind of seriousness, matter-of-fact storytelling or examination. I consider Secretary to be an important film. Yes, this topic had been broached before, but the kind of exposure this film received, makes this a remarkable feat. The characters Gyllenhaal and Spader play are developed; the film rightly never looks down on them, displaying a kind of exhilarated acceptance that truly is ‘scorching’. Spader and Gyllenhaal are outstanding together. They give the film the mandatory feeling of desperate and uncontrollable need. They also give their characters the proper dimensions required of them and are able to throw themselves into every scene and moment. I also love that Gyllenhaal is our protagonist and that the audience enters his world via her character as opposed to the opposite. And to top it off, the film has a happy ending. Spader and Gyllenhaal have never been better.
The moment I started brainstorming this list, I knew my number one, even though it was a film I had only seen several months ago for the first time. Describing it is a daunting task, but here it goes. Cassel and Devos share something together here that I have never seen before and their dynamic is mesmerizing. It manages to balance a passionate undertone, but at the same time, contain a quietness and subtlety that is stunning to witness. Also, the film is told from the female perspective; she is the voyeur here, the one captivated by Cassel. She hires him as an assistant, knowing he is an ex-con, but he is attractive and her work environment is such a miserable place for her; why not? In the workplace, she is in control of him. He works for her. He is not very interested in her, but once he learns she can read lips due to significant deafness, he becomes interested in what she can do for him. For every element of control she has, he exploits her for his own criminal purposes. Yet, she willingly jumps into this scenario, knowingly allowing herself to be used. And he does care for her; kind of. It’s a very quiet streak of kindness, not threatening his motives, but still ever-so-present. She is dowdy, mocked by co-workers, feeling ugly and useless. The attention Cassel give her may have ulterior motives, but it is attention nonetheless. She is needed by someone, and she is willing to subject herself to this for that need from him and from those all-too quick moments of appreciation before he goes back to taking her for granted again. As you can see, there is so much going on here between these two, and it is incredible to see Cassel and Devos play this so sexily and subtly together.